If you’re backpacking Wellington you’re in luck – despite being a capital city, we found so much free things to do which was ideal on our modest backpacker budget. Whether you’re the outdoorsy type, into art or a foodie there is something for everyone. This is the only guide you need for free things to do in Wellington and the top Wellington attractions without the tourist trap prices!
Wellington was our first stop on our North Island road trip and we absolutely loved it as there was so much affordable (and free) activities.
TOP FREE THINGS TO DO IN WELLINGTON
1. Wander Down Cuba Street
Probably the reason Lonely Planet voted Wellington the coolest little capital city in the world and we have to agree. One of the best free things to do in Wellington is wander up Cuba Street – the vibrant hub of all things “Welly” including funky vintage shops, quirky cafes and hipster lil’ bars.
For a little treat we recommend Fidel’s – a Wellington institution with insanely good milkshakes, coffee and cake with friendly staff to match.
2. Admire the Street Art
Whilst wandering Cuba Street you may notice a mural or two, leading us to a highlight of our time backpacking Wellington – the street art scene. It is epic, thanks to the council’s Art on Walls Scheme.
As you may have guessed from our time backpacking Hawaii one of our favourite *Free* things to do is hunt down good street art and Wellington did not disappoint.
A favourite would be the David Bowie mural on the side of Jam Hair Co on Ghuznee Street. Created by artist Xoë Hall it even had sparkly eye shadow.
3. Visit the FREE Art Galleries
If the weather is a little grey during your visit, admire the art indoors instead of out at one of the amazing free art galleries. The art galleries are one of the most popular free things to do in Wellington, showcasing local as well as international artists:
4. Wellington Cable Car & Transport Museum
A ride in the cable car is one of the most fun things to do in Wellington but in true Loz and Daz fashion we read the directions wrong and ended up at the top of the hill and taking the cable car down rather than up.
Regardless, the views are beautiful and it is a unique way to enjoy the city. Although the cable car costs NZ$4.00 so technically isn’t a free things to do in Wellington, the Cable Car museum is free where you can learn about the history of the cable car.
Even if you are backpacking Wellington on a budget, it is a small expensive that is worth every penny for the fantastic view and fun lift up (or down) the hill!
5. Space Place/ Carter Observatory
If you use the cable car, it is worth mentioning nearby the cable car stop (at the top of the hill) the Carter Observatory. Inside is the museum known as Space Place where anyone star obsessed can learn about New Zealand’s sparkling skies.
It is open until 11pm on Tuesdays, Fridays & Saturdays so this would be the best time to go for a view of the evening sky through the historic Thomas Cooke telescope. There are also interactive galleries and a digital, full-dome planetarium.
Ticket prices are NZ$14 per adult, so although not a free thing to do in Wellington, it is affordable on a budget, or if you’re skint backpackers like us and simply admire the buildings from the outside ha!
6. Wellington Botanic Gardens
While you’re in this neck of the woods, a visit to the Botanic Gardens is another popular free thing to do in Wellington. You can enjoy over 25 hectares of gardens as well as a rose garden with on site café, duck pond and playground.
If you are backpacking Wellington in Summer, keep an eye for the free concerts and outdoor movie nights that take place in the Botanic Gardens. Find out more about the gardens and schedule of events here.
7. Mount Victoria Look Out
If you are the outdoorsy type like we pretend to be, the Mount Victoria Look Out is one of the best free things to do in Wellington for the most amazing view of the city.
You can start the hike from Cuba Street like we did, which will take you around 40 minutes one way. Alternatively, if you are limited on time, you can actually drive to the top.
If the weather is on your side, expect stunning views of Tinakori Hill, the Hutt Valley and Eastern harbour bays, Somes Island and the Miramar Peninsula.
Grab a picnic and it’s one of the prettiest (although windiest) spots for lunch when backpacking Wellington.
8. Windy Wellington Sign
Not exactly the Hollywood sign but a close second and a fun photo stop during your time backpacking Wellington. As the windiest city in the world due to it’s location along the Cook Strait, you can photograph the Windy Wellington sign at 10-16 Miramar Avenue.
9. Visit the Epic Weta Cave
One of the best free things to do in Wellington if you’re a film fan is visit The Weta Cave. Although essentially a Lord of The Rings Mecca, there is something for all film fanatics including props and costumes from King Kong, Spiderman and Avatar to name a few.
A full studio tour of the Weta Workshop costs NZ$30.00 however if backpacking Wellington on a budget we recommend visiting the Weta Cave anyway as you can pose with some of the crazy props, watch the documentary and visit the gift shop which is basically a mini museum all for free.
We decided to visit the free Weta Cave and saved our pennies for Hobbiton, which was a highlight of our north island itinerary!
10. Watch the Penguins at Shelly Bay
Our Wellington camping ground not only offered stunning views of the city, but one of the best free things to do in Wellington was mere minutes from our campsite – penguin spotting!
We were so, so excited when we saw the road signs and read reviews of other backpackers witnessing them waddle across the street but unfortunately the only penguins we saw were on the signs and none in real life. If you have time, head to Shelly Bay as even if penguins don’t pop up it’s a funky little area with the most beautiful sunset.
11. Visit the Seal Colony at Red Rocks
On the topic of wildlife, if you fancy an exciting escape from the city schedule around half a day to venture to the Red Rocks located on the South side of Wellington.
The reason this walk is one of the best free things to do in Wellington is because of the colony of fur seals that reside here from November until May. However, the Red Rocks are not just famous because of seals but are also linked to Maori legends relating to Kupe the famous explorer.
Read more about the Red Rocks Reserve here.
12. Visit the Museum of New Zealand – Te Papa Tongarewa
If the weather is not on your side whilst backpacking Wellington (or even if it is) we cannot recommend the National Museum (Te Papa) enough. Not only is it one of the most popular free things to do in Wellington but on the whole North Island.
Sharing artwork, artefacts and stories from New Zealand’s fascinating history and the opportunity to learn about the country’s Maori culture, wildlife, geographic activity and more. No wonder it’s one of the best Wellington activities if it’s raining as you could literally spend hours here and never get bored!
13. Take a Guided Tour of Parliament
If searching for free things to do in Wellington, a guided tour of the Parliament building (also known as the bee-hive) is a popular choice. There are free guided tours 7 days a week, where you can view the public gallery, parliament library, watch select committees and more – all without spending a penny! Plan your visit here.
14. Enjoy Wellington’s Writers Walk
This was an unexpected find and an enjoyable free thing to do in Wellington – the Wellington Writers Walk. In total there are 23 quotations from New Zealand’s most famous poets, authors and playwrights both past and present.
The quotes are displayed as contemporary concrete blocks dotted along the waterfront, although they don’t all look the same so it can be quite challenging to spot them all as you admire the views from the shore.
15. Admire The Sculptures at Frank Kitts Park
Whilst finding the quotes along Wellington’s Writer Walk, you will likely pass Frank Kitt’s Park. Stop here for an hour or two for a picnic and to admire the sculptures such as “The Albatross” by Tanya Ashken, “Water Whirler” sculpture by Len lye and “Sundial” by Charles Stone.
At the park there are also tiered amphitheatre-style seating for picnics and outdoor events. For all events in Wellington, search here.
16. Beep Your Horn in Mt Victoria Tunnel
One of the final free things to do in Wellington is drive through Mt Victoria Tunnel. Whether on your way in or way out of the city during your backpacking Wellington trip, you will be forgiven for thinking the locals are mad as they all toot their horns driving through the tunnel.
We too, were very confused the first time we drove through but apparently, it’s in memory of 17 year old Phillis Symons who was murdered and buried within the walls of the tunnel back in the 1920s. The toots apparently keep her ghost away and pays respect in her memory!
We hope this guide has armed you with enough info and activities to ensure your backpacking Wellington trip doesn’t break the bank! Let us know if there are any free things to do in Wellington we have missed or if you managed to do a few things from this list.